Friday, 18 July 2014

KM should focus on know-how

The Knowledge Management arena is a very confused place to be, and different people, different countries and different industries see Knowledge Management in a very different light.

Some people see Knowledge Management as a way to rebadge content management, and the management of documents.

Some see Knowledge Management as a new word for the Management of Information; for example you will see many companies whose definition of Knowledge Management is "getting the right information to the right people at the right time" - a definition already applied to Information Management.

Others (ourselves included) see Knowledge Management as something more - related to sharing of experiences and insights that give others a greater level of understanding in order that they can act more effectively and efficiently.

Part of the confusion between Knowledge Management and Information Management is almost certainly the lack, in the English language, of any distinction between Know-How, and Know-What. English is unusual in using the same word ("knowledge") for both of these forms of knowing. Other languages differentiate them - Savoir and Connaitre in French, Kennen and Wissen in Germany, Kunne and Vite in Norwegian. In the English language, however, Knowledge is a word that is lost in translation.

Two types of "knowledge"

The two types of Knowledge are very different, and have huge implications in KM terms. Know-what is about knowing facts, Know-how is about understanding actions and processes - understanding what to do with the facts.

Know-what is Information. Know-How often (or usually) isn't.

Most of the information in your organisation is "Know-what" - knowing what was done by someone at some time, or what numbers of X were sold, or what the population of Y was, or what someone wrote in an email.  The know-what is valuable, and good information management will make sure that the right information reaches the right people, but information without knowledge makes you better informed but none the wiser.

Knowledge management has always delivered its real value when applied to "Know-How" - to improving the competence of the organisation by giving people access to the know-how they need to make the correct decisions. If they know how to act, they will act correctly. Know-how management focuses on the exchange and re-use of experiences, guidance and insights; through communities of practice, lesson learning, the development of "best practice" knowledge assets, collective sense-making, and innovation, as well as the development of a culture of learning and sharing.

Through providing people with knowledge (know-how), we allow them to understand information (know-what) and make it actionable.

To derive maximum value from your Knowledge Management program, focus on Know-how.


Luc said...

I respectfully disagree with the gist of this article. In my opinion, KM should focus on knowledge, rather than an arbitrary subset of it. As we can learn from the field of epistemology, there's a lot that can be said about it.

Nick Milton said...

Fair enough Luc, you are right, it's never an "either or".

However know-how is how KM adds value and should always be a (if not the) primary focus of your KM program.

John Donahue said...

Luc, In theory I agree with you. In my ideal organization all knowledge and information related activities and systems would fall under the CKO, because all of those things contribute to knowledge sharing and creation in an organization. The trouble is, this rarely works. Most of those tasks are being performed already and 30 years of trying has proved that such a broad definition of KM is too much change for most any organization.

Meanwhile there is this gap, the effective capture of tacit knowledge. We're pretty good at capturing the facts on paper or in systems, but the experiences, the "How it really worked." comes from human to human interaction. I'm a believer in choosing your battles, and this is where KM can avoid direct resistance from the IT guys, while making a huge impact on most organizations. Maybe in time we'll take over all those supporting roles too, if we still think we need to, but for now I'm happy when I can make a difference in a lane that others have neglected.

Luc said...

Nick, John - Thanks.

John - I agree on the value of human to human interaction. However, since tacit knowledge is largely pre-linguistic, KM techniques aimed at the transfer of tacit knowledge should IMO be focused on direct involvement for prolonged periods of time. What we see in Nick's examples above, is that the majority of them, in practice, rely on language. This is a methodological shortcoming.

I can recommend the following article, which I found last night and read this morning, on KM and epistemology:

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